Vikings’ OL Decisions Loom Large

a change coming
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports.

The Minnesota Vikings’ offensive line has been frustrating for many years despite a lot of early-round draft capital spent on the unit and some good players in the mix.

Vikings’ OL Decisions Loom Large

There always seems to be a glaring weakness with the line’s interior, usually the problematic spot. The offensive line had a reasonable year in 2023 despite dealing with four different starting quarterbacks. Much improvement is needed, and the Vikings’ OL decisions loom large, beginning with what moves to make in free agency in March.

Heading into the 2024 season, four of the five starters who finished in 2023 are scheduled to return. Dalton Risner is the odd man out, leaving the Vikings needing to decide who their starting left guard will be. David Quessenberry, Chris Reed, Oli Udoh, Austin Schlottmann, Hakeem Adeniji, and Blake Brandel are all pending free agents, giving the Vikings decisions to make at all the backup positions as well.

Even with the four returning starters, there are decisions to be made on their future, if not immediately, then soon. How do the Vikings work to improve the OL? I will look at the three positions, starting with the incumbent players, then moving on to the pending free agents, free agents available to be signed, and finally, the draft in an attempt to show how Minnesota can navigate an area of the team that is in danger of being overlooked with issues to be resolved at QB and all over the defense.

Center

OL Decisions Loom
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports.

Garrett Bradbury continues to do everything well until he faces the bigger, better interior pass rushers when his size – or lack of it – continues to be an issue. Bradbury signed a 3-year, $15.75 million deal last year, and although the Vikings can save a couple of million by releasing Bradbury, I don’t foresee that happening with so many other areas on the roster needing attention. The options available in free agency are players like Andre James, Connor Williams, and Aaron Brewer. None of these offer a significant improvement on Bradbury, leading to Minnesota going out and spending money to bring them in.

The Vikings could look to the mid-rounds of the draft to bring a player initially to backup Bradbury with an eye on them progressing into the starter role – in the process, moving on from Schlottman. The $3.6 million in savings against the salary cap in 2025 may look agreeable if a player is waiting in the wings to take over. The mid-rounds will put the top-ranked centers out of reach for Minnesota. With more significant priorities at hand, I don’t expect Jackson Powers-Johnson or Zach Frazier to be a Viking come April. However, the likes of Sedrick Van Pran, Beaux Limmer, and Drake Nugent are names to watch.

Guard

Expect 2 Areas
Former Denver Broncos offensive guard Dalton Risner on Monday Night Football during his first start with the Minnesota Vikings. U.S. Bank Stadium, October 23rd, 2023. Risner started for an injured Ezra Cleveland.

Risner proved a great fit after the Vikings finally pulled the trigger on a deal for the free agent mid-season. However, it was only a deal until the end of the season, and after a successful season for Risner, he will be much more expensive to bring back. The Vikings need to find a way to make that happen. Ed Ingram was much improved in pass protection in Year 2 and probably gets a third year to try and continue his improvement. His involvement needs to be more significant improvement to surpass this season.

If Minnesota fails to reach an agreement with Risner or feels they have seen enough from Ingram, then there are plenty of options, starting with free agency. The big-money signings would be Robert Hunt or Kevin Dotson. A move for either of those would be a statement of intent for the Vikings OL, but this doesn’t feel like the year for that big move, with other positions likely to be prioritized.

If the Vikings are looking for players in their mid-20s with upside, who can be long-term solutions on the roster – which has been Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s modus operandi – then players like Damien Lewis, John Simpson, and Jonah Jackson could be available. A more short-term veteran option would be Jackson’s Detroit teammate Graham Glasgow.

The other option is to go to the well again in the draft. There are several options the Vikings could choose from late on Day 2 or Early Day 3, who could at least come in and compete for a starting job while being at least backup with the possibility to develop. The top options would be Christian Haynes, Cooper Beebe, and Christian Mahogany. If Minnesota is leaning more towards waiting until Day 3, then that brings the likes of Mason McCormick, Zak Zinter, Trevor Keegan, and Javon Cohen into play.

Tackle

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Minnesota is blessed with one of the best tackle duos in the league in Christian Darrisaw and Brian O’Neill. Darrisaw is in Year 4 of his rookie contract and has more than earned a big contract extension. The question is when the Vikings pull the trigger on that deal. I believe Minnesota holds off until next year before signing Darridae long-term. O’Neill is in the middle of a big contract that made him the highest-paid right tackle in the league when he signed. 

Outside of Kirk Cousins’ $28.5 dead cap hit, O’Neill has the highest cap hit on the roster for 2024 at $22.9 million. Those numbers only get bigger over the next two seasons, largely thanks to O’Neill’s contract being the subject of restructures – something the

Vikings could do it again to create cap space. If that’s the case, the cap hits at the back end of the contract will only get bigger. Eventually, an extension or parting of ways will be in order, but we are a year or two away.

What the Vikings do need is a capable swing tackle. Darrisaw and O’Neill have a history of injuries that have caused them to miss the odd game. Udoh’s injury early last season saw the Vikings turn to the veteran Quessenberry, who started four games. The Vikings should consider bringing him back, but he will be 34 when the season begins. A younger second option by picking up a tackle on Day 3 of the draft would seem sensible.


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